Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 Anniversary Edition

Does the world need another great $1000 / pair stand-mounted speaker?

Product name: Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 Anniversary Edition
Manufacturer: Bowers & Wilkins - UK
List price: $999 / pair / USD (700 UKP)
Reviewer: M.L. Gneier - TNT USA
Reviewed: March, 2023

[B&W 606 S2 Anniversary Edition]

[Italian version here]

I have a long history with B&W speakers. I would guess the association started with my reviews of the 805, 804 and 803 Matrix back in the day. I also owned a pair of stunning 801 Matrix Series 2 that I rescued from a studio engineer who was downsizing. I just live for opportunities like that! Sadly, though, I was eventually the guy downsizing which explains the fact that those fantastic speakers eventually moved on from my system. Do I miss them? You bet.

But what about the B&Ws at hand? In many ways the 606 S2 Anniversary Editions (606 S2AE, hereinafter) are opposites of the 801s. The review samples are small and white. The 801s were big, heavy and black. The funny thing is that I find myself enamored of small speakers these days. After years of big speakers and big amplifiers I find my interest has drifted toward the small, the efficient and the sensible. Note, please, I am not referring to electrical efficiency or sensitivity (which, by the way, are different). No, when I use the word efficient in this review I am thinking of an equation that brings together cost, size, ease of use and musicality.

The 606 S2 are sensible speakers. The are a little taller at a 13.5 inches than they are deep and look tidy in their white finish and light gray magnetic grilles. All listening was done with the grilles removed. In the history of high end audio there's always been significant focus on speakers costing $1000 per pair. And there have been some great examples most notably the Thiel CS 1.2, Vandersteen 2 and the legendary Spica TC-50. If you were born too late to hear those speakers I feel sorry for you. But, the fact is that two of those three companies are now defunct and the one that still stands asks no less than $3600 USD for the current version of their classic Model 2. It's clear that a buyer in the market today will have to look elsewhere for a truly great pair of thousand-dollar speakers. Me? I'd start with the 606 S2AE.

I listened to 606 S2AE on 22 inch stands that are likely typical of the quality most folks would use for speakers of this price. Toward the end of my evaluation I substituted some 24 inch stands that cost about the same as the 606 S2AE and weigh no less than five times more. The improvements were primarily in the low frequency range and my guess is that the lion's share of the sonic benefit could be had with the cheaper stands and some judicious mass loading and home-brewed constrained-layer damping. It may seem as though I digress, but I don't. Step one with any stand-mounted speakers are the stands themselves and the 606 S2AE are very forgiving but you will get better sound with better stands or modest stands and sensible tweaks.

These are fantastic little speakers and it's immediately apparent. I had Alone Again by Genesis on the turntable as I was getting the 606 S2AEs settled in. The sound was surprisingly articulate. The crossover brought the drivers together with a seamlessness that was genuinely surprising. The sound of Phil Collins' voice was neatly suspended between the speakers while the guitar flanks to the left, right and behind the plane of the vocals. When the synths and drums join in the presentation is larger and more effortless than I would expect from such modestly sized and priced speakers.

Moving on to Waxwing by Olivia Chaney the 606 S2AEs continue to impress. Simple music, especially of acoustic material, will often put a speaker's errors of tone and timbre on cruel display. But, the sound from the 606 S2AEs flatters the music, capturing the marvelous purity of Chaney's voice while balancing it deftly with the harmonium and cello. I have seen Chaney's approach to singing referred to as neoclassical and I suppose I see the point, a little anyway. Her voice is precise while sublimely musical and evocative. I'm not sure where the Neo comes in but I can surely hear classical elements though I believe I'd describe her work most generally as contemporary folk (with both words used in the most complementary way possible). Back to the 606 S2AEs; they got the tone and timbre spot on when it came to this recording. I had to keep reminding myself that the 606 S2AE cost only $1000 a pair. Impressive.

Next was Andre Previn's Over The Rainbow. I always enjoy the slightly creepy somewhat subversive intro to this piece. It proved that the old pro was still capable of some minimal risk-taking with a classic melody and it works nicely here. The track starts out with piano and later Mundell Lowe's guitar joins before Ray Brown's bass rounds out the song's foundation. It's a great treatment of a genuine chestnut. The 606 S2AE manages to lay it all out with seeming ease; getting the piano's range and enough of the bass fundamentals to create the illusion of trio-in-room admirably.

Let me talk about some of the things that make B&W speakers so good. To me, it comes down to control. They design and build their drivers. You won't find this woofer or this tweeter in any speaker sold by any other company. When it comes to loudspeakers that's a kind of control most manufacturers can only dream about. It means you can genuinely match drivers to other drivers and to the enclosures they're used in. You can (in some cases) design drivers for specific enclosures, or the reverse. Try doing that when you're buying drivers that someone else builds and specs. It's simply impossible.

Even in a modest speaker like the 606 S2AE this brings a sound that's exceptionally well integrated. You never have the sense of I hear the woofer now. Oh, there's the tweeter. Far from alchemy, this is pure design and engineering and B&W hits very hard on both fronts. But wait, I know what you're thinking. MLG, did you bother to turn the 606 S2AE up? How do such little speakers handle the loud stuff?

The truth is I don't much listen to the loud stuff much any more. No Live at Leeds at 110dB just to see if anything will break. Those days are (thankfully) over. That said, I did play some louder and heavier music with the 606 S2AE and the result were quite good. I mean, do we really have to get into the excursion limits of a 6.5 inch driver? I think (or at least I hope) we're all advanced enough to understand and accept the limitations courtesy of the laws of physics. The question on your mind is how are the B&W 606 S2AE at a party?

Come on, really? Well, I couldn't resist one of my favorites and that's The Shins Australia. No, I made no attempt to peel paint from the walls or get myself evicted. The fact is the B&W 606 S2AE are fine with this kind of material. They never get shouty in the upper mids and they always trend toward the musical. Of course, you can reach the limits of their dynamic range and low frequency extension. Please refer to my mention of the laws of physics above if you need clarification.

[The offending binding posts]

Now I'd like to take a few words to complain bitterly about the B&W 606 S2AE. Well, maybe not bitterly but here goes. I know, binding post cups like these have been used on B&W speakers for a long time. But this current version with the red and black plastic caps stuck into the holes designed for bananas need a redesign. What's that you say? CE requirements say you can't put 4mm jacks on .75 inch centers. Ok, then why do so many brands (B&W, I'm looking at you) still do it? Obviously, the powers that be at CE have designated this as A-Ok if you plug the banana jacks. Well, I and many others do not want our bananas jacks plugged. It's a significant pain to remove these tiny, slippery plugs, but I did. The clever folks at B&W should either increase the jack spacing or make the plugs more readily removable and replaceable. Right now this is an inconvenience that has no justification. Do you know how many times I have cursed what should be simple connectors on audio gear over the last 25 years? Me neither. I only know I've been forced to whine like this far too many times. Rant over, for now.

Of late, I've been asking myself a question I never used to consider; could I review using this product? When it comes to the B&W 606 S2AE the answer is yes with a proviso about limitations of bass extension and overall dynamic reach. These are fantastic speakers that are easy to live with and drive. They even spent some time being driven from the 8 ohm taps of a headphone amp...a relatively expensive 300B headphone amp, to be precise, and they sounded Ok. Still, more power is obviously advisable for all but the smallest listening rooms.

The B&W 606 S2AE are the latest in a long line of competitive offerings from this company. As impressive as their more expensive designs are, and as much enjoyment as I've had owning them, I am equally impressed by what B&W accomplish with their lower priced systems. The 606 S2AE get the music right. They never call attention to what they're doing and they will fit both literally and figuratively into many lifestyles. They are superb musical partners, no matter what your budget. I cannot recommend them more highly.

Listen well, but listen happy, my friends!

DISCLAIMER . TNT-Audio is a 100% independent magazine that neither accepts advertising from companies nor requires readers to register or pay for subscriptions. If you wish, you can support our independent reviews via a PayPal donation . After publication of reviews, the authors do not retain samples other than on long-term loan for further evaluation or comparison with later-received gear. Hence, all contents are written free of any “editorial” or “advertising” influence, and all reviews in this publication, positive or negative, reflect the independent opinions of their respective authors . TNT-Audio will publish all manufacturer responses, subject to the reviewer's right to reply in turn.

[Donate with Paypal!]

[Follow us on Facebook]

Copyright © 2023 M.L. Gneier - -